Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease with a Plant-Based Diet
By Steven Lederman, MD, Cardiologist/Medical Director
Virtua Plant-Based Wellness Program
A plant-based diet is the only diet proven to prevent and reverse heart disease; no other diet can make that claim. In fact, research presented during the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2017 showed that plant-based diets decreased the risk of heart failure by 42 percent among people with no history of heart disease.
Researchers have been studying the benefits of plant-based diets since the 1980s. They have found that plant-based diets improve cardiovascular conditions such as angina (chest pain) and atherosclerosis, which occurs when arteries become narrowed or blocked due to a buildup of a cholesterol-containing substance called plaque. In one study, participants who consumed a plant-based diet even showed a reversal of coronary artery disease. Plant-based diets also have been proven beneficial in reducing the risk of a second cardiac event in someone who has already had a heart attack.
If you’re one of the millions of people who are living with or are at risk for heart disease, learn how eating a plant-based diet can help you prevent future complications and, in some cases, reverse existing damage to your cardiovascular system.
What are the benefits of eating a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet focuses primarily on fruits, vegetables, potatoes, whole grains and legumes (beans and peas) and excludes animal proteins, including meat, dairy and eggs. A plant-based diet also focuses on “whole” foods that are unrefined or minimally refined, and it limits or excludes highly refined foods such as bleached flour, refined sugar and oil.
There’s no downside for anyone who wants to follow a plant-based diet. Even if you don’t have heart disease and are not at risk for developing it, a plant-based diet can reduce your risk for developing other health conditions, such as diabetes and cancer. It can even improve the symptoms of autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis and inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
When it comes to eating, what’s good for your heart is good for the rest of your body, too. In addition to lowering risks and improving symptoms for a number of health conditions, eating a plant-based diet can help you lose weight, lower your blood sugar and help you feel healthier and more energized.
What is the best way to make the switch to a plant-based diet?
Switching to a plant-based diet is a lifestyle change that can be intimidating at first. But, it’s easier to make the switch with help from a registered dietitian and with readily available resources including websites, books, cookbooks, educational programs, mobiles apps—and even pre-made grocery shopping lists.
There are several documentaries that you can watch to get more information about plant-based diets, including Forks Over Knives, which looks at the relationship between plant-based diets and managing disease. The Forks Over Knives website also contains many valuable resources related to plant-based diets.
The speed with which you move to a plant-based diet depends on a number of things including your health and the support you get to help you make the change:
- If you experience a cardiac event such as a heart attack, to reduce your risk of a second heart attack, you may want to consult a registered dietitian so you can move to a plant-based diet more quickly while getting a lot of guidance and support.
- If you’re at at low risk of developing heart disease and don’t have any other medical problems, you can make take more time to make the switch. You can start by replacing one meal a day with a plant-based meal and gradually add more to your diet each week.
- You also can move to a partially plant-based diet, and still consume animal proteins like lean meats, eggs and dairy.
Regardless of how quickly you decide to make the change and whether you decide to eat a fully plant-based diet, support is available. Virtua’s Plant-Based Wellness Program combines the guidance of a registered dietitian and a cardiologist with cooking demonstrations, group meetings, supervised group exercise and wellness education to help you gradually transition to a plant-based diet.
It also helps to have the support of your loved ones before you make the switch to a plant-based diet. And finally, believing in the benefits and importance of eating a plant-based diet will help you to overcome hurdles and get the results you want.
For more information about Virtua’s Plant-Based Wellness Program, call 1-888-VIRTUA-3.
Updated February 15, 2018